Is there a Pasifika perspective in photography? How does a Pasifika perspective challenge conventional visual representations of Aotearoa? What stories are emerging from a Pasifika perspective?
Pasifika refers to the people, cultures, and language of Pacific groups – including Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, Tuvalu, and other smaller Pacific nations – who are now living in Aotearoa (New Zealand). Previously, New Zealand governed most of these Pacific nations.
VII Academy has partnered with Creative New Zealand to provide a program for Pasifika creatives from Aotearoa. In the first workshop in the program, which was recently completed, VII photographer Christopher Morris, supported by Pacific photographer Raymond Sagapolutele, worked with nine emerging storytellers to develop new skills and new stories.
To see and discuss the Pasifika perspective, this event showcases work from emerging storytellers (including Frank Falaniko Talo, Jasmine Tuia, and Siniva Williams) who recently participated in this VII Academy workshop.
David Campbell: I’m in Australia and I want to begin with an acknowledgement of country. I begin today by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people who are the traditional custodians of the land on which I am today and I want to pay respects to elders past, present and emerging. Let me introduce our panel today. We’ve got Raymond Sagapolutele, who coordinated a group that included Jasmine Tuia, Frank Talo, and Siniva Williams. They were part of a workshop for the VII Academy that Chris Morris ran. And it was a workshop to provide support for creatives in Aotearoa or New Zealand, and really helped develop what was called a Pasifika perspective. And I think for a lot of people, that will be something they’re not familiar with so Raymond, I wanted to begin with you. Could you tell us a little bit about what you mean by a Pasifika perspective? And what do you think is distinctive about a Pasifika perspective?
Raymond Sagapolutele: Firstly, I’d just like to thank VII Academy for the opportunity to be part of the program, but also acknowledge, as Pasifika, the people of Aotearoa, whose land we are humbly grateful to be connected to. And going through this also thanking [2:15?] who really helped us put this together. And kind of an answer to your question, what is the Pasifika perspective, I guess it’s a perspective that comes through us as people of [2:28]. And it’s a way of us being able to share our stories, our visual narratives around what we see, from our perspective. Historically, we’ve always been the subject of photography. But as time has progressed, more and more of us, whether we come from fine arts or journalism, taking up the camera and being the voice for our communities, especially those of us in the diaspora, and how we connect and find identity on our land that is historically part of a wider, I guess, Pacific community, but more recently considered something more colonial. So, for us and for this program, it’s a chance for us to really provide a perspective that is not mainstream. More often than not the mainstream view of our communities has not been the most positive when it’s put out there. So any chance that we get to sort of provide balance through programs like the VII Academy master classes is a huge benefit for us and having Chris and all of his years of experience, support us and the journeys that these incredible photographers, you know‚Äîour community is tight and I know a lot of the photographers, that’s how small a cohort we have at the moment, but we’ve had leaders in the past like Greg Semu, Edith Amituanai, Evotia Tamua, who’ve been sort of like the ones to step forward and then work in photojournalism, or work in the, I guess, as a lens based practice that is photography, to sort of provide another perspective on who we are as a community and as a people.
David Campbell: Can you say just a little bit about I mean, clearly a Pasifika perspective is challenging some conventional perspectives on stereotypes and so on. There’s kind of a struggle of perspectives there, I guess. What are the things that a Pasifika perspective is actually challenging? What is it trying to contest and overcome?
Raymond Sagapolutele: This is entirely my opinion and you know, I will anchor it on that and that, you know, it’s trying to break away from stereotypes that the usual portrayal of who we are. I started a project, it’s an ongoing project, almost a decade ago, called Out of Context, which was looking at how those of us in the Pacific, who live in diaspora see ourselves, and in that project. It started from a conversation that I had with a Tongan artist from Utah. And he mentioned that it was good to be able to come to Aotearoa and be amongst our communities and see us as we are, as opposed to looking online and only getting one sort of view of our communities. And I didn’t quite understand what he meant until I did a search. And when you look up Polynesian or Pacific communities, the predominant images were cultural, which is not a bad thing, because it’s an important part of who we are. But it’s not who we are all the time. But if it wasn’t that, it was also sports and entertainment. So the All Blacks rugby league teams, netball teams. They’re all amazing things, but they’re not who we are from a day-to-day. So that project came about from just looking at just, you know, an image of what we look like in the workplace, how we are amongst our families, how we see ourselves, when we’re just hanging out with our friends. And you know, that perspective is completely different to the narrative that we’re seeing online. And so this project is a chance for, you know, each of these photographers to sort of provide their view on the world. It may not‚Äîlike some people say, Well, why is there a photo of something that I can see that, you know, some other photographer has taken? I say, Well, the difference is, this is a Pacific person that’s taken this. This is their perspective. They’re the ones who hold agency in this image. And they, you know, it’s good to know this and understand this and to get a different point of view.
David Campbell: Yeah, so it’s about providing a much more comprehensive picture and including a lot more things from everyday life rather than some of the exceptional things like sports and entertainment and so on.
Raymond Sagapolutele: And you know, those are all valid viewpoints, but sometimes‚Äîwell, not sometimes‚Äîfor many of us, that’s not our reality. Our reality is the day-to-day life that involves, you know, our parents, our siblings, and the people we’re connected to. Some of the people aren’t even from our own communities. And that narrative is important as well. Because that sort of, I guess that mixing in of, you know, different perspectives from another way of seeing the world is vitally important. And also, there’s, you know, when it comes to the cultural practices, sometimes cultural practice or cultural, I guess, who we are as people isn’t obvious, it’s in the way we walk and the way we carry ourselves, in the way we speak, the way we see. And we can do that better than someone else who’s an outsider coming in, and trying to interpret that through the their lens.
David Campbell: Final question for you for the moment. How does a Pasifika perspective relate to or sit with an indigenous Maori perspective? Is there overlap? Is it distinct? What’s the relationship there?
Raymond Sagapolutele: You’re trying to get me in trouble?
David Campbell: No, never.
Raymond Sagapolutele: No, I am again, this comes down to my opinion, and broader discussions I’ve had with not just my contemporaries, but with with elders as well, it’s understanding that on this land, we are guests, but historically on this land, we’re also connected. The Pacific is a huge ocean. And a lot of academia, and a lot of others that have looked into it have basically thoughts around the words of [8:58 Hau’ofa?] who says, you know, we’re a land that’s connected by oceans, and that makes us an even bigger continent than most would understand. And historically, for us, being on this land with [9:12] it’s not about saying, we’re going to step up and, you know, speak on your behalf. That’s not our way. Our way is to sit with them, support them, and their struggles are our struggles. We will, you know, we would, it would be the same sort of thing that if they were to come to Samoa, sharing that space and supporting indigenous peoples and their land. And our histories are all different. Each island has developed differently, but at the core of it there is a thread that’s cultural that connects all of us. And I think it’s being aware of that when dealing in these spaces and understanding that as Pacific people, our voices are important, but more importantly, our voices should be united with those on this land who are pushing for more recognition of their ability to be who they are.
David Campbell: Yeah, yeah. Great. Jasmine, Frank, Siniva, I don’t know if you wanted to come in and make any comments about the general point of a Pasifika perspective and how you see that, or we can go on to sharing some work. Jasmine, why don’t you, we’ll start with you and we’re going to see a body of work from each of you and talk that through and describe the work that you’re showing us. And also, perhaps just, you could introduce yourself and your practice, a little bit at the beginning about where you’re coming from in terms of this work.
Jasmine Tuia: Sounds good. Well, I’ll share my screen. I’ll actually just introduce myself. Kia ora, everyone. My name is Jasmine, Jasmine Tuia. I am from West Auckland. Oh, it won’t share. Sorry. I’m sorry. I’m from West Auckland. I was born in Samoa, one of the islands in the Pacific. Moved here when I was 12. And I’ve been living in Auckland and going to school here. Yeah. Can you all see my screen?
David Campbell: Yes.
Jasmine Tuia: Okay, cool. Yeah, so, um, photography. So I made some notes. So I could just talk over it. This is my great grandmother. She is 97. She turned 97 last year. And I guess photography, for me is just around‚Äî I started off, like documenting my art process. So I am a topper maker. So I work with textile in my art practice, but I use photography to take photos of my process and the people that are around me and the practices around home. And I guess, ways of remembering my family and my stories and my family’s oral histories. And just making tangible connections back home, since I’m overseas. I use photography to just kind of connect back home and other things, as well as my artistic practice. Yeah, so this is my great grandmother weaving. She was showing me how to make, I mean, how to weave a mat, that’s a bit of a struggle at first. But yeah, this photo just kind of represents those moments where I can just look back and remember how those practices work and the stories that we shared at the moment. Another big thing of my photography, and before I joined the class, I take a lot of photos of places, especially bodies of waters. And plants and because I make mat with natural material materials, so I take a lot of photos of the environment, domestic places, waters, lands, because those are the important things. My practice and I guess I’ll add on to the Pacific perspectives of the bringing in the natural and I guess what you’d call‚Äî just kind of honoring the places that I’m from, and like the time of those that these stories happen, the land and the waters and yeah, just everything in between. Yeah, I guess the reference part of my photography practice has always been taking photos of things so I can bring them home. Or just bring them over here where I am based right now and just look at the materials and what I can make out of that. So that’s been a huge part of photography for me to document and then look at it for more ideas to work on my other art practices in other mediums. Yeah. And I like the idea of photography to organize, to name things, to rename things, and to highlight important stories in the news. Yeah, so that these are some of the works I do from that. Yeah, and Measina, so our cultural treasures. So coming home from Samoa I looked into our cultural treasures and family heirlooms. This is a fine mat, traditionally of very high value in Samoa. And that’s kind of how I got into photography in studio. So these are just self portraits that I took with these five mats that my family, that I brought over for my family, and also one of the mats is gifted to a friend. So I think that’s the significance of that. Yes, I used photography in the lighting studio in this instance and that’s how I‚Äî this was when I was studying. So that’s how I approached photography then. Yeah, for this class, I switched back to just my‚Äî Oh, well, I can’t say just my phone. It’s a phone, a camera on my phone. So yeah, I have Christopher, as you mentioned, as our mentor and I think the class has really made me look into my own environment, especially during lockdown. And it was perfect timing because it was holidays, it was the festive season. And because I really like this photo, I thought I’d open it up. Yeah, and it’s basically around my home. These are my cousins and my siblings.
They came over during the holidays, and we were just watching a movie before they left to go back home. And it was really sad after that. But this just goes around my ideas of family dynamics. This is what’s normal to me. I don’t know about other Pasifika people. But I think we do all share the importance of family relationships, and I guess the relationships, or the [16:10 va?], or the space between ourselves, our parents, our siblings, especially a sister and brother. Relationships. Yeah. So I think those are the things that come through when I look at these photos. It just kind of, yeah, it highlights those ideas that I have of my family as Pasifika. Yep. So, usually, in my family, we have a lot of talks or just consultation, and this was one of them. And that was just before the beginning of the year, you know, just get that old talk from my parents. Like, do good in school and all that stuff. But yeah, it’s really nice. We laugh, we cry. But it’s just nice to have that open space with our parents. I guess as a diaspora, we get to learn these new ways of living in our contemporary like Pacific time. But yeah. This is everyone just saying goodbye to my other cousins, there’s more of us. And it’s the same thing as well. These are all from the class as well. Yeah, it’s a really sad time, but it’s also a really good time. These are just my siblings, just doing their chores, you know, and I’m just sitting there just taking photos and telling them to not look at me, but feeling really clear. So that was all good. Yeah, I really liked this photo. As Raymond said, there are photographers that have gone before us or just still around us, and like Edith Amituanai. And she was the first photographer, Samoan photographer, that I learned about in high school. So she had a really big influence on the way I like, view the Pasifika photography. Like, I think, looking at outside photographers, I felt the need to kind of make work that was like theirs, but it didn’t represent my own sense of identity. So I think looking at Edith Amituanai’s work really brought me home and just, yeah, and just being around other Pacific photographers now, which I’m really grateful for. These are just, this is just my siblings just waking up and I’m there with my camera. Yeah, there’s another morning of saying goodbyes to my other cousins. And this is a photo from Christmas morning. We all went over to my Auntie’s place in another town in New Zealand. And we all just, I think a big thing in Island families when they have a weekend, they’ll all just sleep in the living room area, will just like sit there until it’s time for food. But yeah, usually, I feel like young Jasmine would have not shown this because I don’t know, I feel like I’d be embarrassed to show these kinds of spaces. But yeah, it gives me like, I feel what Raymond was saying, like agency to show who we are. And like there’s nothing wrong with having different home spaces and dynamics. So yeah, this is a really special like, moment for me to show this here. But yeah. The good dinner with cousins and just talking which kind of relates back to what I was talking about with family dynamics, and some of these kids in my families, we haven’t seen them in like years and some of them we haven’t met, so it was a good time to get out and meet families, and just talk and get the kids to kind of know each other. So when they grow up, they can have more gatherings. Yeah. This is more from my holidays. And then this is when everyone was sad again, when it was us. Yeah, thank you that’s coming to the end.
David Campbell: That’s great. Jasmine, it seems like that you I mean, you were using photography, in terms of your art practice and those incredible studio shots to record things and then documenting things in the landscape. But now you’re really engaging in documentary photography of your family and your life as a way of everyday documentary photography. Is that a fair way to characterize it?
Jasmine Tuia: Yeah, for sure. I think I never looked at it that way. Like, yeah. So I think the classes when he told me that it’s, it’s every day, just embracing the every day at home.
David Campbell: And how does your family‚Äî I mean, presumably you show these photos to your… How did they react to seeing themselves in the photos and so on? What’s their response to them?
Jasmine Tuia: Um, I think, well, I showed them the photos and they’re like, oh, yeah, which is, I guess that’s kind of like, a response, because then I don’t want them to feel like they are made as a subject, like, more than, than just a subject of my works. I think they just look at it. And it’s like, yeah, it’s me. That’s me in my natural, like, habitat like my brother just on holidays.
David Campbell: Yeah. And they were, I mean, in photography, we talk a lot about consent, you know, getting consent from people to be photographed and to be shown. And they were happy for you to photograph them in these situations and so on.
Jasmine Tuia: Yeah. I think when I switched to my, well, the camera on my phone, they were more chill about it. But when I first started the class, I used a camera. And they were kind of just avoiding it. It’s either that or they’d just just smile and pose. I think the phone or the camera on my phone was like, they’re more used to it. So they didn’t really mind. And in terms of consent, I think it’s something that I’m still like learning to like, navigate by. It’s with my family. And it’s personal. So everyone knows I just take photos and get away with it. Because I’m like, I’m the artist in this family. So do this for me. Yeah.
David Campbell: That’s great. That’s great. That’s fascinating how they respond to different technology. The big camera they start posing the, the smartphone camera, they’re completely at ease with.
Jasmine Tuia: For sure, for sure. Yes. And I think that’s the end of my presentation.
David Campbell: Brilliant. Thank you.
Jasmine Tuia: Thank you.
David Campbell: So Frank, let’s go to you. Share your story and talk us through the images as, as you show us.
Frank Talo: Awesome. [23:13] My name is Frank Falaniko Talo. I’m of Samoan descent, born and raised in New Zealand. And my wife is actually part of the indigenous culture of New Zealand. And remember just listening regarding Maori culture and Pacific culture. I think it’s almost‚Äî this is just my perspective, I think sometimes it’s a fallacy to think that the two are separate. Because when you look through history, we actually one people, though we may look different through practices, our languages are different, it’s our value systems that connect us. You know, you don’t even have to say, it’s like a silent language amongst Pacific Islanders, that we can walk into any house and we know the protocols, that we know what to do and what not to do. So it’s been a beautiful thing to be able to do that. And, and for me, in terms of the body of work that I’ve been capturing during this time, my son and I were invited into a martial art school, a Maori martial art school actually, and the name of the school is Te Rakau Humarie, which means the weapons of peace. And this just pertains to one particular tribe, [24:26.] And, and yeah, let me share my screen and I’ll show you a body of work. It is my privilege to actually journey with them. These photos are taken throughout the duration of a year. And I’m still documenting because I think there’s a lot of a lot of stuff like Raymond said, you know, you see the sports side, you see the performing arts side, but in terms of lifestyle and culture, sustainability, and revitalization of culture, the day to day stuff, sometimes you don’t really see that so I’ve really been given the privilege of being able to sit there and then just document it from a Pasifika lens. So, yeah, so I’ll just share my screen. So I thought it’d be appropriate just to start with [25:07] which talks, this is, so let me just, “Kia whakatOmuri te haere whakamua!” And this is when you just “Look to the past while walking into the future. The experiences of the past help shape the present and the future. Let these past experiences, whatever they may be, guide us towards being better. Kia taumata rau!” So my very first slide what you see is that there’s a couple of Maori gods.This is all working in regards to the [25:45], the Maori, the Maori King. He’s not the Maori King representing all of New Zealand. This is just particular parts, but I won’t get into that there’s there is quite a bit involved in it. But what they’re doing here is raising the flag. So this is the Maori Kings Flag. And what you’ll see is you’ll see that it’s actually a heart, they call it a manawa. And there are four aspects of their flag every time they raise it. So every time we have a school or any practice involved, we have a raising the flag ceremony. And what that flag represents, the heart represents, is showing regard for others. The tongue, you see the tongue coming out with the two hands, it talks about people should be cautious of what they say, you’ll see the cross on top of the forehead with the anchor. It talks about being anchored in Christianity or being anchored in Christ. They have a firm belief in Christianity. And then you got the Matariki, stars above, which talks about heralding a new season. So it talks about there’s a new day, and the new day. And this is just some of the things that were characteristics of the Maori flag or the kaupapa. Or, or the way of doing when whenever they came together. So in a bearing in mind, I did say it was Te Rakau Humarie, which you’ll see that written on the warrior’s jersey over there in the middle. And that means weapons of peace. And so basically, what I wanted to do was I just wanted to capture just the everyday you know, like what they do, there’s a little bit of a story around why they call it the weapons of peace.
I’ll just I’ll share a little bit of history. In 1881, Governor Grey met up with King Tawhiao, which is the king of their time. And basically what he did, he grabbed all the muskets that belonged to Sir Grey and he said, no longer will these be weapons of warfare for us. But we will pick up our weapons of peace. And what you’ll see is this taiaha, and which is which is like a spear [27:58] And they’re saying, now when we pick up our weapons, there’ll be weapons used for peace. So I just wanted that as a starting point, when I was documenting this. So this is them raising the flag. What you see in the next slide, we have formations. And what you’ll see is the diversity in terms of ages. There’s young, there’s old, there’s men, there’s women and it’s such a beautiful, beautiful thing to be a part of because what you see is the inclusion of all family. And I just wanted to capture that so you can see they’re doing one other formation of the stances, I mean of the staff, sorry, or the [28:42] , they call it. So next slide you’ll see some of the woman performing some of those salutes. Because there’s different salutes that they learn that really talk about, talk about our history and talk about the land. So it’s all encompassed in the actions and the movements that you’ll see. So what you’ll also see is that there’s kids watching them and as they’re demonstrating, as they’re demonstrating the martial arts. And then on the same level the same day, you’ll see the same woman in the kitchen getting a feed ready for the kids and I really love that, you know, like, it’s all about family inclusion. It’s all about keeping the Aotearoa history rich. And they do that through teaching haka. What you’re, you know, New Zealand’s famous for its haka wave. I’ve traveled around the world. It’s funny, I was in Cape Town. And I remember when I was in Cape Town, all these people suddenly from a distance they started doing the haka and no shouting out and it’s real funny how people see an image of what a haka is, but deep entrenched in the haka is archery history. It talks about where the people are from is talking about that the heroes of old, and even the markings, the markings talk about generations, they talk about genealogies, they talk about where people are placed and who they look after. And so it’s, it’s quite a sacred thing. And it’s quite a beautiful thing that they preserve, and they teach the young ones. So, again, you’ll see some of the seniors and I took this photo through a window of the kids learning the different structures and the different calls. Yeah, so it’s all encompassed. And it’s really beautiful. And then it leads on to a time of grading, so here’s the kids at the time of grading, and actually welcoming the Maori King, or the Maori representative of the crown, I mean, you know, the Maori Prince in this particular instance. So they’re welcoming him in and they do this [30:54] and all the kids get to demonstrate what they’ve been learning throughout the year. And what follows on from there is, this is the Maori Prince, being a witness before the dignitaries and you know, they’re cheering them on. And then followed on by an award ceremony, which in essence, you’ll see all the people in black, all the seniors, and then you’ll see the Maori Prince in the middle. And with all the kids with their certificates, identifying that they’ve gone through the kapa, or all the rituals that they needed to learn during their time just to preserve and revitalize their culture. And then you can see all the smiley faces, you know, it’s such a beautiful thing. You know, sometimes when we have, when we have an outsider view, we can sometimes look at, we can often have judgments of different people like what you’ll see in this photo, different gangs, and they’ve all come together to drop it all down to learn this Maori history to keep this kapa haka, that’s what we say, to keep this culture rich in its history and its stories.
And then the last [32:15] says “Ma mua ka kite a muri, ma muri ka ora a mua.” Ma muri ka ora a mua are ancestors. “Those who lead give sight to those who follow, those behind give life to those who are ahead. And those who in this moment follow may also one day lead.” So yeah, that’s it from me and not just, sorry, that’s it from me, I’m just gonna stop the share. And yeah, I just wanted to, you know, and in a sense, sometimes, we’re always painted with the wrong narratives, and for an indigenous culture to New Zealand, I want to start documenting the beauty and really celebrate the beauty and the diversity through the lens. And one of my big influences is Gordon Parks. I loved how Gordon Parks would take on a narrative and he says, Hey, I’m not gonna pick up a gun, I’m gonna pick up a camera. And I thought, man, let’s change perspective. Let’s change narratives showing the beauty of indigenous cultures. But you know, that’s why it takes sometimes a Pacific Islander to grab a camera because they’re disarmed. It’s not, you know, you have the relationship. And one thing I really took from‚Äîone of the things that Gordon Parks did was, he would go into places and for two weeks not have a camera. I was actually involved in their kapa for three months without no camera, didn’t even know I was a photographer. And it wasn’t till after I said, Hey, can I help document? And suddenly, they said, Yes. So even to this point, now I’m working on a book for the King, and just documenting and just showing the beauty and just freezing their time, as Chris has taught us, to be able to freeze their time and celebrate the diversity and the richness of the culture. Yeah.
David Campbell: That was great, Frank, great story. I mean, in a way, it seems like the camera for you has become a weapon of peace.
Frank Talo: Yeah, 100%. I said in my bio, we were the family that always had family albums. And there was always opportunity to mark others. And just, it was the connection that we had with others and I think for me, I just want to, I want to be able to give that back to whoever through photography.
David Campbell: Yeah. You’ve been working as a photographer, is that correct? You’ve been shooting weddings and portraits and so on. So is this sort of documentary storytelling, this is a new turn for you, something that you’re developing now?
Frank Talo: Oh, definitely. It’s definitely evolved. You know, I think when you know, I’ve I’ve followed like‚Äîso Raymond, I don’t mean to blow, play the trumpet out. I’ve been following Raymond’s work for a long time. It’s something that I look up to in terms of photography. And I just love it how it’s been evolving for me so you know, Raymond will just say just shoot, shoot, and eventually it will come together what you want to do and, and I think shooting weddings, shooting sport photography, I’ve done boxing for a little bit like, I shot boxing photography for a little bit. I just find all of them come together. And I realize it’s a combination of the things to be a better storyteller. Yeah.
David Campbell: And you mentioned right at the end that you were doing a book. Tell us a little bit about that. Because the photography is‚Äîyou’re documenting the story, but you obviously have a purpose in documenting the story, you want it to be published or shown or seen somewhere. Tell us a little bit about the book project.
Frank Talo: Although the book project at the moment is still working with some of the King’s, some of the King’s guards. So we’re just documenting, we’re just putting it together. It’s gonna be like a piece of work between all of us really, it’s, I’m just adding the imagery to a lot of‚Äî they have, we call it [35:56] that have been passed down through the years. So I’m putting imagery to the [36:01]. So in terms of publishing or what, I’m not too sure. There’s just, it’s really just a start. For me, this is a first time for me. I’m totally green when it comes to that area. I just know, I just have a tool that I want to serve people with so that’s what I do. Yeah.
David Campbell: Fantastic. Thanks for sharing, Frank. Siniva let’s go to you and see and hear your story.
Siniva Williams: M?†l?? e lelei, everyone. So, I’m just gonna share my screen now. So just bear with me. Hey, so, um, yes. So when I use photography, I use it to create stories about discovering and reconnecting with my cultural identity. And so my work it focuses on storytelling and connecting with famili, which means family, [37:10 ngaahi ku???], which is ancestors, and [37:13 feitu ªu ªoku kau ki a???] that’s the place of belonging. Before taking my photos, I [37:20] talk with my elders just to ensure I’m not breaking a toputapu. So toputapu means sacred, anything sacred. And these talks, they’re just, they’re very vital as I hear, you can feel and just see the stories and feel the emotions for it. And it just helps strengthen our stories and connection, and the [37:40] it helps me translate this for photography. So when it comes to presenting my culture stories, I need to respect and honor them. And this is how I can balance my fatongi?°, that’s my duties, by being contemporary in terms of being creative, but still respecting traditions. And so in my earlier work, I brought in models of the same heritage as me to celebrate our culture. And this is just one of them, that you guys can see at the moment. And the series is [38:11 Representing Maori?]. And in doing so not only did I learn about my cultures, but my models, they also learned something new, and felt connected to the photoshoot. And I just really enjoyed this process as I felt inspired by learning and sharing with others as we shared similar stories. And when I connect with my models in a spiritual way, I can feel the mana. So in [38:38 Maori?] terms, your mana it comes down to how you take care of your family, your sub tribe, [38:43 kol???], and other people as well. But basically knowing where you come from, who you are, and your connection to the land, and with the model’s mana. They feel empowered and uplifted. And this is what I want for our people, to be represented in photos and feel empowered as well. So I’m just going to share my next slide. Sorry.
Cool. So these images that you can see here, on the left hand side we have up to the curve, and she is our Earth Mother, who gave birth to everything, including people. And on the right hand side, we’ve got [39:24 Hina?] So she’s the first human that was made of clay. And the series helped me get closer to my Maori roots, as I’ve never heard of our stories before. And so I had to research deeper about these myths, and then again, [39:44] my family, and just to make sure I wasn’t doing anything disrespectful because that’s that’s the last thing I want to do. And so bringing these myths to life was beautiful. And to be honest, I was very proud of this work. And you know, I haven’t shared this with anyone but I’d always feel like someone was watching me and helping me in the studio because everything I would do it would just flow so naturally and so easily. And it just felt right. And I feel like it’s my [40:11] helping me behind the scenes. Oops. I’m going to share the next one. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. And so these images, they are actually taken in the first lockdown in New Zealand in 2020. And these two images of my son that I took inside my house using only natural light. And in the series, I wanted him to acknowledge his ancestors, and basically where he comes from, and preserving these memories and educating my son of his lineage. So on your left side, you’ve got the European side. And on the right hand side, it says Cook Island side, because my husband is part Cook Island. And in each photo of the series, there’s a white butterfly, and as we believe our ancestors are always watching us, and they transform into butterflies. And I know Maori is birds. So for us, we see them and then we know that they’re they’re watching us. So here we go. So at the VII Academy, I just learned so much from Chris, Raymond, and my grandma, my extended family here. And this is the series I am working on at the moment. And as you can see, from my previous work, I usually photograph inside. But because of lockdown, I was unable to connect to other people, and even in the photography studio. So I changed my scenery, and re-learned how to photograph outside because, as you all know, the light outside is totally different in that you can’t keep it constant, like light in the photography studio. But that was a big learning curve. And you know, I was so worried as I like in this class, I was so worried because I had never created documentary photography before. And as my previous photos, they were all styled and I had to show the models how to pose so I just assumed that I had to go look for something that was happening in the world for documentary.
Sorry, guys, so yeah. So this, then, you look at, oh sorry. So having these images, I just didn’t realize the story potential I could create for my little family. And my husband and I were both anxious, you know, of COVID. And we did not know how to prepare for what was coming. And my husband, he’s immune deficient. And we just couldn’t go anywhere. So you guys can imagine like being stuck at home. And my son, he just wasn’t able to go to primary school to see his friends. And we just had to take one day, one step at a time. And like, if you look at these photos, here you go, if you look at these photos, they just show innocent and happy times. And with COVID lockdown, we wanted to look at the positive, so I wanted to capture these memories, as I know when my son gets older, and he will remember them and how special they were, especially when me and my husband are no longer here. And my son can still cherish these photos and not think about the time we had to stay in for COVID, but a time we got to share but love each other and make memories as a family. So I took these images and my husband’s family home, which was built by his granddad and it’s filled with cherished memories and joy for my husband. And as a result, it was beautiful to see my son establishing new memories with his father, where my husband used to spend his time with his father and grandparents. And this pandemic, it made me appreciate the small things. Usually my life was just so busy with the family. And so it was nice to slow down and spend quality time with each other and just make memories that will last through the end of time. So the series, and I’m not talking about‚Äîyeah, this whole series I’m talking about now, it shows my family in [44:41 vava?°?]. So [vava?°?] means space and I don’t mean the space in between. I mean the space for maintaining relationships and I feel [44:52vava?°?] is activated by photography and in terms of relationships and respectful people and places and in Tonglan arts to create beautiful and practical creations. Quality always takes priority over utility. So this quality, it includes the [45:10], which means symmetry, [45:18 ma ªuma ªuluta?] which means harmony and [45:16 faka ªofo ªofa?], which means beauty. So if, you know, all these elements, they offer [45:21 mafana], so that’s warmness and fiefia, which means happiness. And I just hope that my photos bring this out, the warmness and the happiness. So, with these photos, I don’t control him at all, I just let, let them do whatever. And but you know, I don’t control them. And I let them take me by surprise, and capture what Chris calls diamonds in time. So these are innocent moments where my family are just themselves. And there’s something extraordinary about the candid moments, which happened naturally, between my son and husband, and just memories that we did not know would happen in the future.
Oh, so these photos, yeah, again, a bit different for what I do, but I enjoyed them and I learned so much in the process. And I just want my images to show emotions and tell stories, and let people connect with moments in their own lives. I needed to share my view of how I see my family, the ªofa, the love I feel for them, so I can, so they can understand how I perceive them. Cool. Thank you very much, everyone. It’s great to share my photography journey with you all. MƒÅl?ç ªaupito.
David Campbell: Thanks, Siniva. That’s fantastic. How did your husband and your son first of all, feel about being photographed in that way? And then how did they feel about the images that you produced off them?
Siniva Williams: Sure. So you know, when I first took the first series of James, and he hated it behind, he hated it behind the camera, and I’m like, do it this way, do it that way, you know, and it was so difficult. And I was like, wow. And um, but then when I did the documentary way, it was so much more free, so I just let him do his own thing. And just the photos. It just came out more more pure, I guess, in a way. As for my husband, he’s just like, I’ll just do whatever. He’ll just listen to me, so that’s good.
David Campbell: And did they like the images that came out? Did they like the way the family is represented in the documentary story?
Siniva Williams: Yes, they are. Because, to be honest, I actually wasn’t gonna share these photos of my family because I’m like, as I said before, I had, um, I thought that this wasn’t like a Pasifika view. But when I was, I actually emailed Raymond about it and he told me to like, share it because it is from a Pacifika view. It just made me realize that, hey, you know, I am Pasifika. I am taking the photo and this is what is coming out. And yeah, I’m really grateful for that.
David Campbell: Yeah. And do you feel that‚ÄîI mean, you have different photographic styles, which is fantastic, from the, from the studio ones to these documentary ones. Do you feel that you’re going to develop a documentary style? And would you develop the story into something that you would show publicly in a general exhibition or a book or some form of circulation?
Siniva Williams: Yeah, definitely. I mean, because I, when I first picked up the camera, I just assumed that yeah, I’m gonna do portraits. That’s what I’m gonna do, nothing else. But then joining this course, has just given me more options to photograph people doing their own thing. And like, No, you don’t want to force things. So it’s really nice to just be able to capture these precious moments that we have.
David Campbell: Yeah, great. So we’re getting towards the end of our time, but we’ve got time for a couple of questions. If anyone in the audience wants to drop a particular question in, put it into the q&a box, so I’ll bring that in. Raymond, I wanted to put you on the spot with another another question, not get you in trouble this time. Talk a little bit about what it’s like to be a photographer in Aotearoa, New Zealand and the challenges of making a living out of photography. You work as a freelancer, that’s a challenge for everyone around the world. What are the challenges in Aotearoa? And how do you address those?
Raymond Sagapolutele: Um. I guess when I started out doing photography, when I started with photography, because I mean, I was a visual artist to begin with. And I stumbled into photography through my wife and what she was doing. We bought an SLR film camera and had it stuck on auto and we just used that and let the camera pick what you know, whatever. And then when my wife did a course I really enjoyed seeing the material that she was coming back with and decided to give it a go as well. And I learned off a photographer named [50:06] and you know, learning film was, I think, a really valuable lesson because I learned to slow down. You had to slow down. Shooting with film, you’ve only got limited shots, so you have to pick and choose. And then with the digital age, things switch up again. So having had that as a background, photography was always just something that sat in the background, I took the camera everywhere. I photographed all sorts of different things. And, again, as luck would have it, a photo I took of my brother became my entryway into editorial photography. The editor of a music magazine liked the shot I got and offered me a role. So I spent nearly a decade shooting concerts and, you know, learning how to handle light when there’s generally no light and being under pressure, but also in that space, being one of very few Pacific photographers who are doing that sort of thing. Penina MomoiseƒÅ, who’s in the cohort, as well, she started coming through, and she’s done quite a bit of that now as well. And seeing more and more in that space, although I’m saying that, given what we’re in, and this goes back to freelancing, you know, events and all that sort of thing have been impacted through the pandemic. And I think that’s just a general kind of overview on all of, you know, the arts, the pandemics really knocked us back and we’ve had to adapt, and you know, the word, everyone uses pivot. As a freelance photographer, I’ve learned, and this is where the Pacific side comes in. I’ve learned to nurture relationships with people, I’ve learned to respect and honor those that I’ve worked with in the past, and that’s sort of helped me get work moving forward. People will remember, you know, Raymond worked really well, and, you know, we bring them back into this project. And a lot of that’s come from my upbringing of being part of a Samoan family and understanding that, you know, your elders deserve respect, your family, your siblings deserve, you know, respect, and you you nurture these relationships. As Siniva mentioned, that [52:27] relational space that connects all of us. Freelancing is not easy. You never know where where your money’s coming from, you know, from one month to the next. And I sort of, you know, grit my teeth, because projects that I had on the go have suddenly stopped. And I’m lucky in that, because [52:54] is such a huge community, they’re supportive, and they bring me through, so VII Academy has been part of the journey. You know, as a freelancer, you know, photography is one thing, but photography has also given me the skills to be able to understand that I can pass these on, and it’s vital from a Pacific perspective, is nurturing and supporting those around you by you know, it’s not just about you, it’s about what you’re part of, and if I can pass on my skills to another generation, or to those around me, then that’s what I’ll do. It’s kind of, it’s not the most profitable way of living. But I think life’s more than money. You know, the mafana, the warmth that you feel from from being part of bigger projects, you know. I’m currently in [53:41]. I’m teaching photography to intermediate students, so they can tell the world about how they see their environment as its impacted by climate change. And you know, that every, you know, there’s so many things going on in the world. But one of the things that we learned today, we talked about today, was getting to look at the smaller things, the smaller details in life, and understanding that, you know, little things are as important as the big picture. Because the big picture is made up of a lot of little things. As photographers, we have that chance to capture the little things and kind of present their face to the world.
I think I’ve gone way off the topic of being freelance, you know. To sum it all up, I don’t think I could ever do a nine-to-five again, you know. I’m going back to teaching and lecturing at AT this year, but I’m only doing it based on, you know, I can sort of say, you know, I can have this amount of time, I don’t have to do as a nine-to-five. It’s part of my bigger practice as an artist. And I love the freedom of being able to move within and out of projects and support.
David Campbell: Yeah. So we’ve got a question from Julia…
Raymond Sagapolutele: Is this an answer in some way?
David Campbell: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And I think that, I mean, the answer is that the challenge for you in Aotearoa is the same as the challenge globally for freelancers, is that you pick up certain pieces of work to pay the bills, to do some things, and then you pursue projects, you tell the stories you want to tell. It’s both difficult, but possible. And I think that that’s something that you share with with photographers around the world in that sense of it’s probably, everything’s distinctive in its place. But that particular condition of working as a freelancer is quite similar across a number of locations. So yeah, definitely. A question from Julia in the audience. She wants to know, if the group that was in the workshop, whether you’ll maintain it as a group? Do you see it as a group developing? And perhaps, do you think about doing a long term project together at some point? Or do you see projects being interconnected somehow? How do you think things are gonna look a few months down the line, a year down the line, with the group. Who wants to…?
Raymond Sagapolutele: I’m going to apologize because my internet connection is really playing up the moment.
David Campbell: That’s okay.
Raymond Sagapolutele: But I feel that with the cohort that we’ve got, I would love us, I would love to maintain the relationships we’ve built. And I think that’s across the board with the team, but also with VII Academy and their support. It’s both for the importance of these networked groups and communities because as you’ve seen with with the work from Siniva, Jasmine, and Frank, everyone has a different voice and all those voices really lend themselves to giving an overall image of what’s going on, especially, you know, with our Pasifika communities. So whether it’s six months from now, or a year from now, I’m really pushing that we… not only just have us as… connecting more and more of our community to be able to do what we do as visual artists. As I like to put out there, oratory is a huge part of who we are. And this is a way of us being able to tell our stories without cameras, while being still part of that community as well.
David Campbell: Yeah. So final question for Jasmine, Frank and Siniva. Just your thoughts. What’s your ambition? What’s your dream with your photography? If you could imagine one thing, a year from now, a few years from now or whatever? What would your ambition and dream about photography be? Jasmine, do you want to go?
Jasmine Tuia: Yeah. I think I guess it just goes back to the collective and collaborative thing for me. Just to dream, we’ll probably just have a studio, like a shared studio with everyone where we can just go in for free and just take photos, and be with other photographers. And so like, yeah, I keep thinking of like, emerging photographers, or, yeah, anyone that is interested in photography can just go in and do what’s fun, and distinct. Yeah, that’s it from me.
David Campbell: Frank.
Frank Talo: I would love to travel all the Pacific, and just document, document our people, document our stories, and just really get in amongst families and, and just live, you know, even if it was based on a year, just to be able to tell these stories. Now, that’d be a dream of mine. I think something I’m definitely working towards, and something that I’d love to do, where I just show the beauty of indigenous culture from Pasifika. That’d be a dream.
David Campbell: Seems like you’re well on the ways of doing that too, so.
Frank Talo: I love it. I have, I’m a lover of history. I love history. And I love being able to marry that with photography. It is awesome.
David Campbell: Yeah. And Siniva.
Siniva Williams: So this is like a big, big dream. I don’t know if any of you have heard of [59:12 Lisa Rihanna?], but I absolutely love her work. And I would love to bring our stories up into like, the international space and actually share it like wider. So that’s my big dream. Yeah. It’s exciting.
David Campbell: Fantastic. Well, that brings us to the end of our time. I really want to thank all of you for really opening our eyes to the stories that you’ve been telling, the work that you’ve been doing and the perspective. It’s a part of the world that sadly, we don’t hear enough from I think, though with you we are going to hear more from the Pacific and that’s going to be very important, but thank you very much, Jasmine, Frank, Siniva and Raymond for being with us and sharing those things. And we look forward to more discussions later on this topic. Bye everybody.
Jasmine Tuia: Thank you.
Siniva Williams: Bye.
Frank Talo: Thank you.
Raymond Sagapolutele: Thank you.